WI reaches out to sexual assault victims, hopes to test thousands of untouched rape kits

The key to some unsolved crimes in Wisconsin could lie in sexual assault kits lying untested on evidence shelves.
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Wisconsin is taking efforts to examine the thousands of sexual assault kits that have gone untested in recent years.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) has teamed up with the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA) for an outreach campaign. They're trying to get a hold of people who were examined by a nurse following a sexual assault and had a rape kit collected, but don't know if the kit was ever tested.

Around 6,000 kits in Wisconsin were untested as of 2014, the Associated Press reports. They either weren't needed to get a conviction; prosecutors had decided the case against a suspect was too weak; or victims decided not to cooperate.

Now, the DOJ and WCASA want victims to request their kits be found and DNA tested as part of the "By Your Side" campaign, in the hope the evidence helps to solve cold cases.

If you're a victim in Wisconsin who isn't sure if their sexual assault kit was tested, contact the By Your Side campaign here. Those who get in contact will then be connected with support services.

"The criminal justice system relies on the courage of sexual assault survivors to catch perpetrators of sexual assault," said Attorney General Brad Schimel in a news release. "The Department of Justice, WCASA, and our partners around the state want survivors to know that we are here to support and empower them through this process. We will be by your side every step of the way."

The Badger Herald reports that Wisconsin was given $4 million by the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2015 to begin addressing the backlog of untested rape kits.

The WCASA says Wisconsin lacked "standardized procedures" when handling evidence from rape kits, which is part of the reason why the "daunting task" of reaching out to victims is necessary to track them down.

In Wisconsin, the number of arrests for "forcible rape" have declined in recent years. There were 562 in 2015, down from 601 in 2014 and 773 in 2011, according to DOJ figures.

Untested kits in Minnesota

Minnesota has had similar issues with untested rape kits. In Nov. 2015, there were around 3,400 untested kits sitting on evidence shelves across the state.

The Pioneer Press reported that more than 1,000 of these were untested because the victim didn't want them to be. A further 738 were untested because prosecutors decided against pressing charges, while in 260 cases the supposed assault was found to be consensual.

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